Joe and Mary Ann McDonald - And I Fell in Love with the Instructor

J – I’ll start first, because I started first.

M – He’s older. Haha

J – I started when I was in about eighth grade. By the time I was a junior in high school, luckily enough, National Wildlife Federation had a film library that they were going through at that time. That kind of supplemented my high school and early college photography career, because I was able to sell through them.

M – In second grade I got a Brownie Instamatic camera with a flash where you actually had to lick the flash bulbs before you put them onto the camera.

J – She still licks the back of hot-shoe flashes.

M – Yeah, I can’t break the old habit. Haha


J – I’ll try to tell the story without getting too emotional.

M – Haha

J – I was teaching photo workshops. Mary met me at a lecture that I was giving at a bird club, and she decided to take the course that winter in the Everglades and…

M – And basically, I fell in love with the instructor. I had to convince him that I was necessary for his business. And the rest is history. He opened me up to the world of photography, and it was like this creative bloom went off inside of me.

Affect on your lives

J – In a way, [photography] almost defines my existence. It’s almost like a religious experience. In taking the photographs, it’s like celebrating nature. I really think that is my operating premise.

M – If we don’t take an image that’s okay, because we have this whole library of images which we call neurochromes up in our brain of things that we’ve seen throughout the years. When we’re out there it reinvigorates us; it just fills us back up. You become one with it. And then to be able to document that to use it for educational purposes for kids or for adults. To share it with the rest of the world, and to try to save it in that aspect, it’s pretty special.

On seeing

J – I drew pictures before I ever took a photograph. Although, I dabbled with drawing ever since then. You know, just as kind of like a fun thing...

M – He does great acrylic painting, and we have stuff in our house from him, so don’t let him kid you.

J – But the point is that even looking at the world like a painter or an artist you see things that you absolutely don’t otherwise see. To give you an example, I’ve often been tempted to make just an outline of a zebra and take it on my safaris, and put it down at the table where we all have lunch and say, 'Okay, fill in the stripes on the zebra.' And I’m sure most people would have no idea which way the patterns would go. Because we look at things, we classify them, and then we dismiss them.

Backyard habitat - Hoot Hollow

J – I wanted to be able to step out the door, and not have to worry about paying for a gallon of gas, but be able to take photographs literally just outside the doorstep.

M – It’s our little piece of heaven here. We can walk right out the back door and photograph. We dug vernal ponds for the wood frogs to mate and everything and to have tons of tadpoles. Our birds and our animals eat better than we do. I'm going through probably 200 pounds a week of bird seed right now even. We've just been experiencing our first fox squirrel and a red squirrel. It's really cool to be able to get out there and say, 'Wow, we helped bring them here, because we developed this for them.' It’s fun to be able to give back so much by creating this habitat.


M – It happened at the end of November, one day before my birthday. We were in Rwanda on our 75th gorilla trek. As they started to go back up into the woods into the national park, another group, called the hero group came. And Ghunda, who is the head Silverback of Sabina was running past us. You know when something is going to happen, because he puffs his lips up like this. Pfff. And then what he was doing was something we had never seen before...

J – This is good.

M – The two main Silverback started going… (see video) It was just wild! The photography just added to being able to capture it and share it.

J – I had a camera laying down on the ground at the time, and a Silverback ran by like a freight train. His foot just missed the camera; he was that close. Had he moved, even another two feet over, his shoulder would have hit any of us, and just flipped us over the ledge. Because were were right on the edge of a…

M – terraced field.

J – But I mean, to really have the hairs of the gorilla brush your face as he ran by…

M – it was cool.

Favorite image

J – BBC and Nature’s Best both had it as the second place winner that year. So, it was a striking shot…

M – What he forgot to mention was that it was seven male lions. So, we’re talking about seven big male lions on this kill.

J – And as my story continues. Haha. It was like if you’re climbing and you get scared. My leg was just rubber. You know, it was just shaking! And I was aware of that shaking and thinking, 'This is really cool, because I am so juiced up that my body is responding to this.'

Please leave us a comment below. Experience more of Joe and Mary Ann on their website at Hoot Hollow.